July 27, 2007
Larry Pope: "As Americans we have learned that, although the EU may call itself a Common Market, there is not one Europe" (photo: Johan Weemhoff)
C. Larry Pope of Smithfield Foods, Inc. is eminently a family man from Virginia and a strong local patriot. The boss of the world's largest pork producer and processor (2008/09 revenues: $12.5bn; €8.8bn) is optimistic with a typically American "can-do" attitude. Pope (54) was quite humorous about the trade, but, regrettably, deleted his jokes when authorising the text. Perhaps this was because he doesn't have an exaggerated trust in journalists. "I hope you are going to write what I say and not what you think I said." Unusually for a Chief Executive, Larry Pope wasn't afraid to talk politics. But perhaps this isn't so surprising when it comes to the international meat trade. After all, it has always had a political dimension and one which could well grow, given the increasing tensions in global economic trade flows. The Americans are a pragmatic business people. Some of the tax-heavy regimes built up in the EU must look petty and smug when viewed from the other side of the Pond. But how would our polite Virginian phrase this?
June 29, 2007
Jef Colruyt: "Big retailers don't always have small prices" (photo: Reinhard Rosendahl)
Founder-son Jef Colruyt is so shy and self-effacing that one could almost forget that he has a very exciting turnaround story to tell. The offices of the quietly spoken, 50-year-old chairman & director at Colruyt headquarters in Halle are so modest and functional that one wonders if one has not wandered into the porter's lodge by mistake. In fact, price-aggressive supermarket operator Colruyt is the comeback story of Belgian retailing. After international discount giant Aldi entered the tiny market in the mid-70s, the family-run company began to lose its footing. When fellow German discounter Lidl and French hypermarket heavyweight Carrefour followed, Colruyt looked positively punch-drunk. It was essentially Jef Colruyt who got the company off the ropes to make it a local hero in Europe. Now things are looking up again. In fact, the company posted 2006/07 revenues of €6.3bn. How did he do it, and where does he go from here?
June 22, 2007
Erling Jensen: "We are one big family" (photo: Andreas Szlavik)
The headquarters of Dansk Supermarked Gruppen in the tranquil provincial Danish town of Højbjerg take some reaching. However, it is well-worth the effort if you are going to meet Erling (EJ) Jensen at the end of your travels. Jensen (61) is the soft-spoken managing director of Dansk Supermarked. That proud name is not only big in its Scandinavian homeland. The company's Netto discount stores are also attempting to rival those of Aldi and Lidl in the UK and – somewhat cheekily – also in Germany, the cradle of hard discount. At the modern corporate head office of this low-profile operation, everything exudes the easy-going perfection which the Danes excel at. Perhaps this serenity is also due to the fact that Dansk Supermarked, with annual net revenues last year of €7.8bn, is organised as a trust within the A.P. Møller-Maersk shipping-to-oil conglomerate. Thus, Dansk Supermarked doesn't have to plan for the short-term, and Erling Jensen can take a broad strategic view of how to expand Netto in western, eastern and northern Europe. Rivals please take note.
January 26, 2007
Steve Esom: "It's not what you take, but what you keep" (photo: Mackenzie Studios)
Steve Esom is nothing if not courteous. The CEO of UK supermarket operator Waitrose Ltd. escorts his visitors to and from the reception area at head office, just opposite London's Victoria Station. Perhaps this considerate behaviour ought not to surprise, as Waitrose is a subsidiary of John Lewis Partnership plc (JLP). JLP has founded its business ethos on respect for staff, customers and suppliers. Mild-mannered and unassuming, Esom (46) managed to discuss the Waitrose success story – based on quality, trust and transparency – without sounding smug. This regional multiple with only 4.5 per cent of the UK food retail market certainly punches above its weight. Its margins are the highest in the trade. But can any ethics and organic-oriented retailer assert itself as a national multiple against the likes of Tesco, Aldi and Lidl?
December 18, 2006
Jørgen Knudstorp: "Wherever we departed from our core proposition, consumers deserted the brand in droves" (photo: Lego)
Like many Danes, Dr. Jørgen Knudstorp, chief executive of Billund-based Lego System A/S, is refreshingly unconventional. Dressed in jeans, open shirt and rolled up arm sleeves, he gave an interview in a former warehouse converted into an arts centre in a suburb of Copenhagen. Knudstorp had chosen the venue to provide some out-of-office training as well as motivational seminars for his staff. It was also the only slot he could find within a heavy time schedule. Ex-McKinsey man Knudstorp is a strategic thinker who has been instrumental in turning Lego around after the company had got seriously out of kilter by diversifying away from its core proposition. Last year, the Lego group posted annual sales of €1.3bn. During the interview, it was a pleasure to let Knudstorp's analytical mind play over the international toy segment. It was also reassuring to learn from him that children still play with colour plastic bricks in an age of electronic games.
December 1, 2006
Jim Stengel: "Experience the consumer" (photo: Die Vision)
The term "marketing guru" is so often misused that one hesitates to apply it. However, the title perfectly fits Jim Stengel, Global Marketing Officer at fmcg giant Procter & Gamble. Stengel's extremely consumer-oriented approach to the world-wide marketing of fmcg products has taken even the "Proctoids" to a new level of sophistication. Jim Stengel believes in getting close to his customers wherever they buy P&G products. If that means following shoppers around the store or his marketing & product development team living with consumers in their homes in order to understand user behaviour, then so be it.
November 24, 2006
Michel-Édouard Leclerc: "We put our social and political vision before money-making" (photo: Les Linéaires)
Michel-Édouard Leclerc, president of leading French retailer co-operative E. Leclerc, is a living legend in France. This self-styled Robin Hood of French consumers, who has declared a personal crusade against higher prices in favour of "la vie moins chère", is seldom out of the media. Our newspaper's film team cornered the charismatic Frenchman at the retailer's ultra-modern headquarters in Ivry-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris. This is where all the independent retailer members of "le mouvement Leclerc", which grossed revenues of €35bn last year, are expected to invest a third of their time (tiers temps) helping the collective. But none of them may run more than two hypermarkets or three supermarkets. So we asked Dr. Leclerc to explain the exceptional corporate culture created by his father in 1949.
October 27, 2006
Maurice Saatchi: "Just one word" (photo: Mark Mackenzie)
Interviewing one of the legendary Saatchi brothers is like Mick Jagger asking you for loose change in the car park of some rural English town. Lord Maurice Saatchi (63) now runs M&C Saatchi plc in a smartly-tailored suit and with immaculately-manicured finger nails from his office in Golden Square, Soho. Looking from out of his office window, he certainly has a good view of the London Eye. Saatchi is polite, but inscrutable – one could just have easily interviewed a sphinx. He looks at you inquisitively through the big heavy glasses which were his trade mark during the heyday of predecessor company Saatchi & Saatchi in the 70's and 80's. This was also when the trendsetter helped Britain's Conservative party back to power. Today's member of the House of Lords still talks affectionately about ex-premier Maggie, now Baroness Thatcher, and better known to continentals as the 'iron lady'. Recently, Lord Saatchi has written a number of articles on advertising in the UK press. Using an ad man's Occam's razor, Saatchi wants his clients to pare away the sales hype until they promote themselves in the simplest of possible terms. True to form, Maurice Saatchi remains the enfant terrible of the advertising industry.
August 28, 2006
Kjeld Johannesen: "If you aren't profitable, you can't grow" (photo: Carsten Milbret)
Pleasant, easy-going Kjeld Johannesen is the CEO of a company which is living proof that a co-operative structure is no impediment to size in the meat trade. Danish Crown's revenues of around €6.3bn make the Randers-based group the world's largest meat exporter and the third-largest pig slaughtering business. In the search for profitability, however, the international meat trade looks very much on the verge of another round of consolidation. Johannesen is a man who gives the impression that his people, the environment and animal welfare concerns are not mere ciphers on a management agenda. But the need to reduce cost in an increasingly competitive and high-volume environment has inevitably drawn him into conflict with local Danish trade unions. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe, and even Germany, offer sites with cheaper labour. Will Johannesen choose peace at home or a cost-optimised balance sheet?
May 19, 2006
Martin Sorrell: "Retail brands have to be communicated" (photo: Alpha Pool/CIES)
Given his omnipresence in the international media, an interview with WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell is like déjà vu. Sorrell runs the marketing services group and world's largest advertising company by revenue (2008: €8.3bn) from a headquarters in London's classy Mayfair district. This 64-year-old powerhouse sets himself big goals and even larger bonuses. His current potential pay package is a whopping €70m, but this isn't a soft option for bankers. After investing €22m of his own money, Sorrell only gets the dough if he meets a specific goal: WPP must be the top performer by market capitalisation within a peer group of nine over a five or 10-year period. In between striving for his bonus, he gave his view as an international ad man of mass market retailing & the fmcg industry.